Last week we confronted a crisis situation in the shelter where I work as social work supervisor. The center offers refuge to undocumented youth waiting for their asylum application to be resolved. One of our residents had been waiting word about his older brother who had made the trek from Honduras to join him in Texas. Last he knew his brother had crossed into Texas and as far as he knew he was somewhere in the Valley trying to find his way north.
Members of our staff made contact with every agency and institution in the border area hoping to locate the whereabouts of the young man to no avail. I personally thought it was a matter of time we got word that he had been picked up by the border patrol because Texas unlike Arizona and New Mexico is more populated and not a desolate desert terrain. We finally got news about the missing man but it wasn’t good. We were notified that two corps had been found not far from the ICE checkpoint and one of them was carrying his ID.
Unlike law enforcement or military personnel I don’t do this as a matter of regular practice but notifying someone about a relative’s loss is not an easy assignment. We had to huddle and plan how to give him the bad news before we went into his room.
Ironically, this experience was juxtaposed with the joy of my two daughters’ birthday the same week, two healthy mature women enjoying life fully far away from the Mexican border region. Especially because I think of my daughters being born in April as a celebration of life, I associate their birth with the spirit of spring, the freshness of April rain and bright colors of wild flowers.
This experience made me think of the inevitable connection between life and death as the continuum of a natural cycle and how we manage to deal with it from the joy of new beginnings to the pain of a natural or unexpected end.
The consolation words used to calm our young resident used by the men of faith in the staff was to think of his brother in a better world with peace and no more pain. To remember the good times they had spent together and the nice things they did for one another. I know for experience that all words although well meant, are never enough to soften such trauma. I know that such a shock takes us into a deep emotional state where guilt, sorrow, remorse and other negative feelings reside. Trapped by the cold reality that we will never see that person we love so much ever again.
I remember when Mom too, left us on the early morning of April 25, 2017 and I felt the heavy weight of all those emotions. What kept me afloat then was my memories of what a remarkable woman she had been all throughout. The best way I can describe it in lay terms is as a defense mechanism to counteract the pain of missing her. The feeling was like being left a large inheritance of wealth and richness beyond any material legacy.
A legacy in the form of memories of a woman haunted by lifelong material limitations and yet had a spirit large enough to always find a way of sharing with others. Like the time just weeks before her passing when she found out her kidneys were in perfect condition after a medical check-up so she told me she was thinking about putting one up for donation.
I miss Mom still although I’m beginning to cope with the idea of her not being around.
A feeling that is getting stronger is thinking of the opportunities missed of having done more for her. Ironically my modeling after her led me to tend more to the needs of others than my own family.
My children live far away and understandably so, I miss them too but in a different way. It’s not a hurt-kind of missing so I’ve made sure to explain to them that missing someone does not necessarily mean to long for them but to have a supportive memory of all things that went well and we enjoyed together.
It brings me joy for instance to remember the weekend when Camila made my nails out of boredom and when I showed up to class early Monday I had to explain to my students my multicolored nails. Or the time when she laughed as she heard me call Alexa, Alicia, and the time when she made me laugh as she told me about a red cap she saw that read “Make America Mexico Again”.
Laura is too forever present in my mind as a tenacious individual who managed as a pre teen, to endure my roaming around through six states and followed me for 15 years in my continuous soul searching. She tells me that those experiences made her the strong individual she is now.
I guess learning how to say goodbye since early on is the best antidote to confront the mystery of the cycle of life. Meanwhile salud, for the million laughs and the million tears while we’re on this side still.